Jack Benson from Inside Spanish Football provides a detailed look at new Valencia striker Santi Mina’s metoric rise through the Celta Vigo youth system to his summer move to Mestalla and his enormous potential to be one of the best strikers in Spain.
The Future: Santi Mina
19 years old
Valencia and Spain
Santiago ‘Santi’ Mina Lorenzo was born on 7 December 1995 in the city of Vigo, Galicia, north-eastern Spain. Like many Spaniards, he grew up fixated with futbol. He grew up in a time when Galicia dominated the Spanish footballing world as Deportivo La Coruña were well and truly experiencing their golden years, with the likes of Bebeto, Mauro Silva and Donato. Of course, there were the household names of Spanish football, too. Raúl dominated the media, although that comes as no surprise considering he scored over 165 La Liga goals during Santi Mina’s childhood.
Fast forward to 2005 and Santi Mina signed a youth contract with his hometown team Celta Vigo, perhaps unsurprisingly after notching up 27 goals in 17 Juvenil league games – more than a certain Lionel Messi achieved at that level. By the age of 16, he was called up to Vigo’s ‘B’ team where he proceeded to score eight goals in a mere twelves games during his first season. Pack Herrera, who was the manager of Vigo’s senior squad at the time, regularly allowed Mina to train under his guidance. Herrera continued to laud Mina and this was soon clear when he handed Mina his La Liga debut at the tender age of 17 years and two months. On 16 February 2012 he replaced Iago Aspas on the hour mark. Despite losing the game 3-1, it was a major milestone in Mina’s career, becoming Vigo’s third youngest player to ever feature in the top-flight of Spanish football.
However he was unable to build on that milestone for the remainder of the season as he returned to the ‘B’ team to score seven goals in the final five games of the season, completing a successful campaign as Vigo won promotion from Spain’s fourth tier of football, the Tercera division. Mina’s talent was further displayed at the end of season Copa De Campeones, which is the most reputable and renowned youth tournament in the whole of Spain. He finished the competition with a record of three goals in four games, although he was ultimately unable to lead Celta to victory as they were defeated in the final by Sevilla.
Perhaps unfortunately, that defeat proved to be Santi Mina’s sign off from junior-level football as he was fully promoted to the senior squad by Luis Enrique during the pre-season of the 2013/14 campaign. Although he started the season with the ‘B’ side, he was quickly promoted to Enrique’s squad as he made his second senior appearance against Athletic Bilbao in Celta’s third game. The script couldn’t have been written any better, as he came off of the bench to nod home a goal from some tidy build-up play. Once again the moment was soured as Athletic Club emerged 3-2 victors. Despite that, Mina sealed his place in Celta’s history books as he became the club’s youngest player to score in the top-flight at the age of 17 years, 9 months and 10 days.
Kids in Spain these days don’t really want to be a number nine. They want to be a creative midfielder, or as recent Spanish youth squads have shown, a winger. This trend seems to have past a young man born in 1997 by.
Santi Mina is his name, 17-years-old is his age and right now he happens to be one of the most exciting young players in Spain. Fortunately for Spain he’s not a technically gifted creative player, or a pace-filled winger; he’s an outright striker. This bodes well for a nation void of naturally instinctive strikers…
Aside from the goals the most notable feature of Mina’s game is his physical capacity, and although just 5’10’ he packs an incredible punch in his strike play. There is upper body strength and balance that faces opposing players, before a combination of power and sharp change of direction give off the whole package. He can operate well off the front line too and hold the ball up, rather than simply being a poacher. Primarily though as his goalscoring record suggests, he knows exactly where the back of the net is.
– David Cartlidge, Spanish football writer for Four Four Two, on Santi Mina in 2013.
Mina was then promoted to Luis Enrique’s starting XI a week later in a game against Villarreal. He continued to make a number of cameo substitute appearances for Celta throughout 2013/14, including a Copa Del Rey tie against Athletic Bilbao. Once again he found a way through the Basque side as he netted the only goal of the game to advance Celta to the next round.
Following his impressive performance, Lucho was full of praise for the youngster, describing him as a “rough diamond who is very hungry to do well and is craving to play”.
And that’s just what he did. He didn’t let the fame get to him. There was no signs of him developing any kind of ego. He wasn’t giving unauthorised interviews and demanding the club give him a new contract with more money. He stayed committed and fully focussed on his ultimate end goal. Perhaps a certain Raheem Sterling should have looked to see how Mina handled his rise to fame before throwing all of his toys out of the pram. Mina continued to listen to what Lucho and his other coaches told him. He adapted his game and surprise, surprise, has become a better player out of it.
On 11 April 2015 Santi Mina wrote himself into Celta Vigo’s history books once again. It was a memorable game for both Mina and Celta Vigo as a whole as they demolished Rayo Vallecano 6-1. Mina, who started the game on the right-hand side, tore Abdoulaye Ba to shreds and scored a remarkable four goals. Thus he became the youngest ever player to do so in the top-flight of Spanish football and the first Celta player since 1979.
Although his ten year journey with his hometown Celta Vigo came to an end on 4 July 2015 when it was announced that Valencia had agreed a €10 million fee with Celta for Mina. He promptly signed a six-year deal with Los Che and has since settled into life on the east coast of Spain. Mina has made an immediate impact for Valencia as he scored on his debut, netting the fourth in a 4-0 victory over the Austrian outfit Weiner SK.
On the face of it, €10 million for a 19-year-old who has a goalscoring ratio of nine league goals in 50 appearances represents risky business for Peter Lim’s Valencia. If you take a look past the statistics, however, you will see that Santi Mina is indeed a solid addition to Los Che’s attacking lineup as they return to the forefront of European football in the form of participation in the Champions League.
During this golden era of Spain’s national team, the principle of a conventional striker has been abandoned in favour of technically gifted wingers, nimble-footed creative players and the rise of the “false number nine”. Although with the emergence of players such as Paco Alcacer and of course, Santi Mina, some are starting to question whether Spain is still sticking to this policy.
Mina and Alcacer are considered to be throwbacks to the old-school striker. Quick movement inside the box, excellent spacial awareness and a natural instinct for goalscoring. In fact, it was his predatory nature that saw him achieve his prolific scoring feats, a strike rate of a goal every 57 minutes, in the Juvenil leagues, leading to his coach, David de Dios, to be particularly effusive over the youngster’s scoring. “Everything he touches goes in. He can score with his head or foot, can volley, use his left or right, inside the area and outside it too”.
For a modest 5 ft 10, Santi Mina has done an impressive job at leading the line during his fledging career. His upper body strength coupled with a superb sense of balance means he constantly has defenders on their toes when dropping off to hold the ball up, or lurking in the box to poach a goal from a difficult position.
This versatility in forward play, as well as an agile body frame and sharp movement in and around the box is something that many of Santi Mina’s managers have used to their advantage. Often placing him on the right-hand side of attack where he is able to easily cut in on his favoured left-foot and unleash venomous strikes goal-wards. It is clear to see where Mina’s instincts lie, with his lack of width and crosses leading to an unbalanced team, he much prefers to head directly towards goal rather than simply become a creator for others.
Undoubtedly, Santi Mina has shown that he has the scoring instincts and characteristics to play as a complete centre-forward, though he is far from the finished product. Still rash in his decision making, it is clear to see that he has the raw talent and attitude necessary to succeed at a top-level club such as Valencia. In order to fit Nuno’s system he needs to tweak his game ever so slightly and prove that there is more to him than a good strike rate.
What I like about him best, at the moment, is that he has a delight in nicking past players in the box and an ability to finish without a heavy touch. He looks like someone who comes alive near goal, who still takes delight in the kind of things that most footballers find costly to produce – sang froid, daring, confidence, risk taking.
What he’s going to have to prove is that he’s smart, durable, that he will listen and learn, but his raw talent looks very exciting and he appears to be the kind of footballer that others, around his team, look for instinctively because they know he’ll ‘make things happen’.
– Graham Hunter, Sky Sports panelist and author of Spain: The inside story of La Roja’s historic treble.